What Differentiates Airport Sceneries?
Archive: August 31, 2013
[Editorial] Lately, I've been testing quite a few airport sceneries. Throughout this testing I’ve made some observations regarding which specific attributes differentiate average airport sceneries from something good or even great, at least to me. These days, buildings, structures, and static objects are almost always modeled well. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I tested an airport scenery and thought, wow, that building, hanger, or object is a complete mess.
Next, we address building, structure, and static object texturing. Again, in most instances, these items are textured well and appear to accurately represent their real life counterparts. Obviously, some developers are better than others. However, I seldom test an airport scenery product and note horrible object texturing, at least not recently.
To me, proper object modeling and texturing is just a very basic baseline requirement for any airport scenery. These attributes do not define the overall quality in my eyes.
You see, flight simulation is about immersion and third party sceneries should do just that - enhance the immersion factor. The immersion factor is not increased by sitting in front of any given airport building and admiring the high quality modeling and texturing. The immersion factor is enhanced by feeling like you are really arriving at the upgraded airport. This means the scenery needs to offer quality representation all the way from approach to shut down.
In my opinion, two of the most important attributes of any high quality airport scenery are ground detail and area blending.
Anytime I approach a new airport scenery for the first time and notice a defined border, I am instantly disappointed. If scenery blending is poorly done the airport will likely not last on my hard drive. The thing for me is this, if I am approaching an airport and notice a defined border, the immersion factor is now ruined. No matter how well done the actual airport is my immersion factor is compromised. If my immersion factor is compromised, the inherent value of the scenery is now severely minimized before I have even landed.
Most current airport sceneries offer some level of custom photoscenery and autogen. The problem is when photoscenery is not blended well into the surrounding area the custom scenery area stands out like an island. I wish more developers would appreciate the importance of scenery blending and how much proper blending adds to the overall immersion factor.
Next, ground work. I have tested some airport sceneries that have the potential to be great, however, due to basic ground detail I lose interest. When I am taxiing over generic repetitive ground detail without nearby volumetric grass I again lose my immersion factor. In real life, ground is not completely boring and it shouldn't be in flight simulator either. I know not all will agree with my comments regarding volumetric grass, but to me, it’s really a necessity in this day and age. It sometimes seems as if developers overlook ground detail quality for more glamorous aspects of scenery development such as building and structure design. High quality ground is a must and without it other quality aspects of the scenery will be lost.
These two attributes have the ability to kill an airport scenery product, at least in my eyes. Without proper blending and high quality ground detail I will never feel like I am actually there. In fact, I feel as if I have landed into some surreal island with lifeless repetitive ground. Of course other items can add greatly to scenery such as animated people, moving ground vehicles, waving flags, birds, boats, etc. But, without high quality ground work and blending, the scenery may not last long enough on my computer for me to even notice these items.
Anytime a developer can put all these attributes together in addition to the expected high quality object modeling and texturing, you have something wonderful. My problem is that I still notice sceneries which simply place a cluster of high quality buildings on a cut out unblended photoreal ground with overlaid generic ground textures. We are past this type of thing in FSX, at least we should be, especially if I’m paying for it.
Disagree or not, these are my thoughts.